Charts of Depth and Trust

Lorenzo Joe. (Justin Wells/IT)
Lorenzo Joe. (Justin Wells/IT)

By: Chris Hall

AUSTIN — It was Monday, August 31st, when Texas’ official depth chart for Notre Dame was released. It’s an exciting moment for every true football fan. Game week is now finally upon us.

The offseason is too many months of things that aren’t football. Recruiting is entertaining and good fodder for every message board, especially in January/February when there’s no more bowl games to watch. Since I played in high school, recruiting has become a year-round contest in and of itself. But talking about recruiting is not as fun as the actual game.

Neither is spring ball, the almost-real-football thing that happens every April. It is real football in that everyone is wearing pads and it’s hard. It is totally not real football in that you only beat up your own teammates. Outside competition is never involved.

Inevitably, there are tons of reports about how the players who were bad last year are developing. Also, every one is working hard — always — and the culmination of that hard work is a reward to the fanbase: the spring game. However, the spring game can only be a disappointment. What we want is a game that takes place in the Spring (the time when football games are generally not played). What we get is an inner-team scrimmage every coach fears his enemies are also watching. That’s why the “game” is filled with vanilla plays that reveal as little as possible about the actual team.

That’s why the release of the depth chart is a momentous occasion. Real football is finally happening.

Amazingly, some coaches release a depth chart without revealing who will actually start for their team. By simply putting an “or” after each name, a meaningless depth chart can be succesfully released. Nick Saban did just that with a record-breaking five possible starting quarterbacks. It’s no secret that Alabama doesn’t have a returning starter at QB, but five? Methinks king Saban just doesn’t want to show his hand.

That’s exactly what Kliff Kingsbury is doing — purposefully not telling us who’s QB1 for the Red Raiders. When asked about it he said “there won’t be some announcement or anything like that.” Funny, I thought that’s what depth charts were for.

Sometimes the depth chart is more shocking to the players than anyone else.

On Monday, sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Joe tweeted:

Joe Tweet

I couldn’t help but laugh. Not at him, but that he took to Twitter to hilariously comment about it. It may be surprising, but coaches don’t hold a team meeting to inform everyone on the 2-deep. The entire team is frantically preparing for the season. On game week, a formal depth chart has to be submitted (as everyone continues to work). And that’s all it is sometimes, merely a formality.

The deciding factor between who plays and who doesn’t: trust.

Remember, this is what coaches do for a living. It’s how they put food on the table and provide for their household. In some sense, a coach’s paycheck is determined by his players. If the welfare of his family is on the line (and it is), he’ll only play those he knows will perform. Why would he risk his own livelihood on someone who won’t? It’s the players job to earn the trust of the coach.

That’s why, in some sense, depth charts don’t matter. That’s what Vance Bedford said when asked about Poona Ford starting over Hassan Ridgeway at defensive tackle. “Somebody starts the game, somebody finishes the game. The only people worried about who’s starting just don’t know.”

The players a coach trusts will play, regardless of who starts or who’s technically in the 2-deep. If there’s no one a coach can trust (I’m thinking of Wickline and Texas’ O-line of 2014), he’ll choose the lesser of two evils and have to live with it. Sometimes it takes a few games to figure that out.

In 2007 our offensive line was young. Justin Blalock, Lyle Sendlein, and Kasey Studdard had graduated to the NFL. Our depth chart showed 2-deep across the entire offensive line. But we actually had only one backup behind the starting five: me. The fact is, there was only six of us Coach McWhorter trusted. That’s why I rotated in at all five positions (and eventually started at all five positions as well).

Lorenzo’s omission from the depth chart, in my mind, doesn’t matter. He should already know where he stands by the amount of reps he gets in practice, and how he does in those reps when he receives them. Coaches say this all the time but it’s true: they don’t decide who plays, the players do. They do that by how they perform every day in practice.

Lorenzo probably just wanted was to see his name in the press release. I understand. I wanted the same thing when I was a sophomore too. You put in the hard work, you want to see it pay off. Small things like seeing your name in the 2-deep is motivating.

My advice to him: use your omission as motivation, as well. (Your only other choice is to get discouraged, quit, or transfer).

Sometimes guys get in their head they’re never going to play. That thought alone can destroy the career of a football player. They think their coach doesn’t like them, they’re playing the wrong position, or something else like it. And instead of continually fighting that thought, they accept it. As a result, they never play even if they stay in the program.

The only thing a player in Lorenzo’s shoes can do is work. They can refuse to accept their current situation, by investing years of themselves into the weight room and film room. They have to have a long term view to fix their short term problem. They can’t give up within the first two weeks of fall camp. This is what makes great football players and great men in society: the willingness to sacrifice of themselves, fight and endure.

With depth charts, projections, and schematics, football is incredibly complex and simple at the same time.

In the end, whoever has the best 11 that day will win. Here’s to the Longhorns getting a W in South Bend. However they play, it will tell us a lot about the rest of the 2015 season. I hope it gets started in the right way. Let’s ride.